Are You a Textual Micromanager?
6 January, 2023
You’re in a management or leadership role, so you have to review draft documents. The question is: Do you micromanage your review?
You’re a good manager, so you don’t micromanage other tasks. You’ve hired competent people to do what they’re good at, and you give them the freedom that they need. And yet, when it comes to text, the odds are surprisingly high that you do micromanage it. You’re probably doing other people’s jobs even when it’s to the detriment of your own.
Be honest: When reviewing a draft that’s still early in the process, do you ever:
- Adjust the capitalization of particular terms (project manager or Project Manager)?
- Correct a brand name?
- Fix double spaces after a period?
- Correct apostrophes that are misplaced or missing?
- Change number formats (twenty-one or 21)?
- Add or remove hyphens (vice president or vice-president)?
- Correct little grammar issues that bother you (“less than 10” or “fewer than 10”)?
If you do any of these things, that’s textual micromanaging.
Whether you use an editor, your quality assurance team, or one of your experienced writers for the editing stages, taking yourself out of the strategic vision and jumping into textual micromanagement is a mistake. It’s bad for your team, it’s bad for the document, and (even though it makes you feel good in the moment) it’s bad in all the same ways as every other form of micromanagement.
Your Role in Document Review
You’re in a leadership position. So when your staff give you a document to review, they are looking to you for things they don’t have the authority or information to decide:
- Are the facts correct?
- Are the things they’ve emphasized really the most important parts?
- Is it aligned with your department’s priorities?
- Does it match the company’s strategic vision?
- How will it play with your clients?
- How will it play with other people in the company—especially other key decision-makers?
- If it makes promises, can they be kept? At what expense?
They are not looking to you to do what they’re paid to do—not any more than a baseball player would look to the team manager to step up to the plate and swing a bat.
Not Your Role
You may know how to do the smaller details on a document, and you may want to tidy them up as you see them. But your role as a manager is to keep your eye on the big picture. There are some things that are, as the saying goes, below your pay grade—and could do more harm than good if you make them a priority.
Here are five things to avoid:
1. Doing the Final Polish
If you see something in a document that isn’t ready, it may bother you. But if you were running a restaurant, would it bother you that uncooked food is bad to eat? Or would you have confidence that by the time your cooks are done with it, it will look and taste great? The same goes with text. You’re paying people to clean it up. They will—when it’s time. Besides, if you polish up text that’s still going to be revised, your work may be undone or deleted before the document is finalized. Why waste time like that? It’s not as though you don’t have enough to do.
2. Teaching Grammar
Yes, you remember things you were taught about good grammar in school. But the requirements of business English today are not all the same as the requirements of school English decades ago. And school teachers are teaching kids. They often teach simple versions of rules because kids are kids. Would you take your gym teacher’s advice over your doctor’s advice? Then don’t take your English teacher’s grammatical dictates over the knowledge of experienced professionals that you hired for their skill with language and their up-to-date knowledge of standards.
3. Showing Your Staff How to Do Their Jobs
You know you can write, and you want to give an example of how to do it right. But what you really need to give an example of is how to manage. That’s your job. And when you do it well, you empower your staff to do their jobs well and you set a good example.
4. Terrorizing Your Staff
Management by intimidation has fallen out of fashion, and with good reason. If you show that you don’t trust your staff to do their jobs and that you think you can do them better, it weakens morale and initiative. And if you make decisions that should be theirs—on points of style, for instance, which are a key responsibility of editors—it can make them resentful, and they may look for ways to cut you out of the process whenever possible.
5. Fixing Little Things Just in Case
It’s true: the more eyes on a document, the more things can be caught. And why ignore easy fixes? If you’re walking down the hall and see that someone’s dropped a piece of paper, you’ll probably pick it up, right? But this isn’t the same. For one thing, when you let yourself be distracted by the small things, you may not give enough attention to what you’re responsible for. For another, you might be wasting time—see point 1 above. Besides, there are more efficient and consistent ways of taking care of many of the little details—see below.
Manage Documents the Way You Manage Every Other Problem
You may feel that adding your own editorial efforts helps with your budget. But wearing yourself out and doing other people’s jobs is never the answer.
If you’ve hired the right people, the best thing to do is invest in improving your staff’s efficiency and effectiveness. Small investments can quickly pay for themselves by saving time and improving quality—and they’ll make your staff happier too.
One of the best, most effective investments you can make is PerfectIt. PerfectIt is an automated style and consistency checker that runs in Microsoft Word. When your quality assurance or editorial team is using it, you can breathe easier. You know that important details will get checked and loose ends will be tied up at the right time. PerfectIt is customizable, so you can use it to check important details of style, phrasing, and branding, and share those with your entire team. Instead of using yourself as the proofreader of last resort, you can build PerfectIt into the process to ensure that your team continuously improves.
But What About the Final Review?
All of the above assumes that you’re reviewing at an earlier stage in the document’s process, not at the final review. But what if you are in the final review stage?
If you really are giving a document a “last look,” you shouldn’t be making any substantial changes. If you do, it’s no longer at the final stage—it needs to go through editorial and quality assurance again, because errors and inconsistencies can slip in with even a two-word revision. Tiny changes can sometimes force a whole layout to be redone. (Bear that in mind when you’re tempted to add a final flourish!)
But if you’ve hired good people, have good processes, and have invested in good tools such as PerfectIt, then your document really will be clean and ready by the time it gets to final review. All it will need is your sign-off. You’ve done your job by investing in other people and letting them do theirs.
Does your team have PerfectIt already? If not, get the free trial!